A bill that calls for temporarily establishing a special court for first-time, non-violent offenders whose problem gambling contributed to them committing a crime is making its way through the New Jersey Legislature.
A420 calls for creating a Gambling Treatment Diversion Court, a three-year pilot program administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), an organ of the state’s judiciary.
Three gambling diversion courts would be established — one each for the state’s northern, central, and southern areas. The AOC would be tasked with setting the boundaries for the operational areas of each court.
The gambling diversion court system proposed in the bill is based on a similar program established in Nevada.
Bill Would Allow People to Avoid Prison
Under A420, if a gambling diversion court has reason to believe that a person convicted of a crime is also a problem gambler, it can hold a hearing ahead of sentencing to determine whether the person committed crimes “in furtherance or as a result of problem gambling.“
The court would also determine if the person convicted of a crime “should receive treatment under the supervision of a qualified mental health professional.“
At the hearing, the court would advise the convicted person that sentencing would be postponed if the individual submits to treatment and is accepted into a program to treat problem gambling.
If the person convicted of a crime satisfactorily completes treatment, A420 calls for the person’s conviction to be set aside. The person would subsequently be allowed to file a petition for all records relating to the case to be expunged.
The bill would allow people convicted of crimes to avoid prison, provided a qualified mental health professional certifies that they satisfactorily completed a treatment program for problem gambling.
A420 further stipulates that convicted persons be placed under the supervision of a qualified mental health professional for a minimum of one year but a maximum of three years.
Convicted persons must agree to pay restitution to anyone affected by their gambling problem as a treatment condition.
The pilot program expires in three years, at which point AOC would need to decide whether to keep running the gambling diversion courts.
Panel Won’t Hear Bill Until Mid-April at the Earliest
A420 was introduced in the New Jersey General Assembly on January 11 and referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It was transferred to the Assembly Tourism, Gaming, and the Arts Committee on March 16 and unanimously approved by the panel four days later.
The bill now awaits approval by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It didn’t make the agenda for a Thursday meeting, so the earliest it would be considered would be mid-April.
Three lawmakers — Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville), Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Hamilton Square), and Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (D-Trenton) — are the bill’s primary sponsors. Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Cinnaminson) are co-sponsors.
Last June, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Clark) filed an identical bill, S3976, in the New Jersey Senate. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee but hasn’t moved forward.
“While the industry does not cause destructive behavior, and each individual must be accountable for their actions, it is fitting and proper that a special court with judges knowledgeable in criminal law and procedure and addictive behaviors be established to adjudicate criminal cases involving persons determined to be affected by problem gambling or disordered gambling,” S3976 states.